It was over.
The game, the series, the season, it was over.
The Dodgers trailed by three runs that felt like 30, they were down to their final five outs, the Atlanta Braves were on the verge of a three-games-to-none lead in a nightmare was skidding toward a sweep.
Then it happened.
Cody Bellinger happened. Mookie Betts happened. Dodger Stadium happened. Randy Newman happened.
Rollin’ down the Imperial Highway…
As a late afternoon chill descended upon Chavez Ravine on Tuesday, with scores of their fans and most reasonable hope having abandoned them, the Dodgers located their heartbeat, found their magic, and burst through the shadows.
“To kind of, for lack of a better term, resurrect ourself…I think is huge,” said pitcher Walker Buehler.
For lack of an even better term, wow.
In what was arguably the most stunningly impactful Dodgers’ postseason victory since Kirk Gibson hit a slider into the same set of bleachers 33 years ago, Bellinger blasted a three-run home run with one out in the eighth inning to tie it, then moments later Betts smacked a double to score another run to eventually win it in a 6-5 victory over the Braves in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.
It looked like an apparition. It sounded like a train. It felt like a dagger.
One minute, the Braves postseason-perfect reliever Luke Jackson was throwing gas and the Dodgers were sucking air.
“We were dead in the water, you could see it,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
The next minute, Bellinger was walloping the ball far and high into the gathering mist, and Betts was driving the ball into a deep and unattended patch of green, and the grand old stadium was shaking at its core.
“It just flipped everything,” said Roberts.
Bellinger rounded the bases while stretching out his arms and turning to the Dodgers dugout as if to say, “This is who we are!”
Betts reached second base and began chopping his arm at the Dodgers dugout as if to say, “This is what we do!”
The Braves stood frozen and stared at each other from the across the diamond as if to say, “This is bad.”
The Braves still lead the seven-game series 2-1, but it feels like they’re on the ropes. The Braves still would be considered statistical favorites, but it feels like they’re doomed.
The Dodgers will start Julio Urías against the Braves bullpen Wednesday night. Advantage Dodgers.
The Dodgers will have both Max Scherzer and Buehler on regular rest in Atlanta if they can just win one of the next two games here. Advantage Dodgers.
“To feel like this is like a dagger, no, this is just, you know, a speed bump in the road,” claimed the Braves’ Jackson. “I wish it didn’t happen and I wish we were up 3-0 going into Game 4 and having a chance to sweep, but I have no doubt at all in just our team coming back and…ready to rock and roll.”
Quite the contrary, if there are no doubts, it is the Dodgers who surely have no doubts.
They can do this. They will do this. They will win three of the next four games and advance to their fourth World Series in five years because to beat these Dodgers in October, you can’t just knock them around, or knock them down, or knock them senseless.
The Braves learned Tuesday what the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals have already learned earlier this postseason. To beat a team that has won three elimination games and one unofficial elimination games just this month — and three more last year — you have to squarely, soundly unequivocally knock them out cold.
Two years, seven chances, hasn’t happened yet.
“We’ve been in that situation before,” Bellinger said. “It’s never going to just be easy and handed to us. We got to fight for it.”
The Braves indeed put up a valiant battle Tuesday in front of a crowd that was oddly not a sellout and was stunned into silence early. Entering that eighth inning, as evening approached, fans were leaving, cold air was whipping, and the Dodgers were clearly on their backs. Five more outs and they would be down three-games-to-none, a deficit overcome only once in baseball history.
Buehler wasn’t great. Gavin Lux dropped a fly ball in center field. Corey Seager muffed a grounder at shortstop. They only had four hits. They were down 5-2. The end was near.
“I think everybody’s super aware of it, it’s impossible not to be aware of it,” Betts said. “But I think that’s a weak way to think of things. I think our mindset has been why are we going to focus on that when we are here now, we can win the game now, and all it takes is a hit or two, and then you get some energy, and then ... you forget that you’re down 0-2.”
Then here came those hits, smart hits, unselfish hits, the best kind of hits.
Will Smith led off the eighth by shortening his swing and grounding a ball down the right-field line for a single. Then AJ Pollock, who was batting .125 in this series, smacked a ball over leaping shortstop Dansby Swanson.
Up stepped Bellinger, who had already been in the middle of two elimination-game-winning moments this month, and he promptly smacked a high fastball into history.
“Pure joy,” said Bellinger.
Pure madness, said Chavez Ravine, as the crowd erupted into as much as rumbling, deafening noise as this place can make.
“It’s hard to imagine a bigger hit that I can remember,” said Roberts, later adding, “It was as loud as I’ve heard Dodger Stadium…this was a freaking big hit.”
Then it got even louder when Chris Taylor singled, stole second, went to third on Matt Beaty’s grounder, and scored the eventual game-winner on Betts’ umpteenth memorable Dodgers’ moment.
“When Belli comes through, I mean, I think it’s kind of a sigh of relief like, we finally did it, and now it becomes contagious,” Betts said.
Contagious. It is. This October magic, it spreads. It started two weeks ago with Chris Taylor’s walk-off homer against the Cardinals. It continued with Bellinger’s eventual series-winning single against the Giants. And now this, four runs with five outs remaining, the Dodgers rising from the deepest part of the canvas, more alive and awake than ever.
It was over, and then it wasn’t, not now, not yet, and maybe, for this special team in this extraordinary time, not ever.